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Inbox: The fire still burns brightly in these NFC North rivalries

The Packers need to make Minnesota pay for any over-aggression Sunday night

RB Aaron Jones
RB Aaron Jones

Julian from Gastonia, NC

I think the outside linebackers are the key to defeating the Vikings. None of them can afford to crash down and allow the Vikings QB to run outside the way the Giants QB was able to do a few weeks ago. To be honest, they have not been consistent this year in protecting their edge responsibilities, but opportunities still remain.

The Packers must contain Jaren Hall and force him to throw from the pocket. That means the defensive line staying gap sound and the edge rushers staying in front of the quarterback. Hall comes with more credentials than Brett Rypien did last month, but Green Bay's defense made the Los Angeles Rams look like a team playing with a backup QB and needs to do it again.

Margeaux from Tallahassee, FL

Happy Saturday Wes! In the first Vikings matchup, did the Pack play predominantly zone coverage without Justin Jefferson to worry about? Last year in the second meeting with the Minnesota, I believe Jaire Alexander shadowed Jefferson the whole game with great results and a Packers win. Is Carrington Valentine or Eric Stokes up to that kind of challenge come Sunday night?

I can't recall exactly what the coverages were in the first matchup with the Vikings, but K.J. Osburn, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson were responsible for virtually all Minnesota's yards through the air. The Vikings lose Hockenson but gain arguably the best receiver in the game in Jefferson. Neither Stokes nor Valentine will back down from that assignment, but the Packers will need an all-encompassing plan to contain Jefferson. And part of that falls on the pass rush getting pressure on the rookie quarterback.

Adam from Rapid City, SD

I am very happy and excited for the success Tucker Kraft has had so far in the NFL! I am as equally excited for when Luke Musgrave gets back! Another thing I am hoping to see is a three-TE set with Kraft, Musgrave and Ben Sims in there as they all look like great finds by Brian Gutekunst! Do either of you guys think that would be a nightmare matchup for defenses like I do?

I'm excited to see a healthy Luke Musgrave with this version of Tucker Kraft, who had only a few catches for 11 yards at the time of Musgrave's injury. Together, those two draft picks are going to be fun for years to come. Sims seems like a solid find, as well. Admittedly, I was skeptical about the Packers going so young at the tight end but Gutekunst again is proving why he handles the roster and I simply write about it.

Frank from Solon Springs, WI

I see Musgrave was listed as limited in practice Wednesday. Any chance he is available for Sunday night? Would love to see him and Kraft on field at the same time.

The Packers listed Musgrave as doubtful for Sunday. He desperately wants to get back out there but he's also five weeks removed from a rather serious injury. So, I don't blame Green Bay for wanting to make sure Musgrave is fully cleared before sending No. 88 back on the field.

Dan from Algonquin, IL

Hi Wes, what is the best way for our offense to use the Vikings' aggressive blitzing defense to our advantage? I think it all starts with our O-line having its best game of the season, opening big holes for the RBs, and keeping Jordan Love on his feet when passing. What about you?

Everyone has a part to play in that. Certainly, the O-line has a very visible responsibility in that task but it's also up to running backs to pick up blitzing linebackers in pass pro and Love to find his hot reads and get the ball out. Blitz-heavy teams also are subject to getting caught off-guard by screens, so this also could be a game where Aaron Jones is as valuable as a pass-catcher as he is a running back. Simply put, the Packers need to make Minnesota pay for any over-aggression on Sunday night.

Jeff from Omaha, NE

Do you think the traditional "rivalries" mean as much to today's players as they did a generation ago? Rosters used to be mostly the same year after year before free agency. Rivalries were heated from playing the same guys across from you for years. Now there is so much cross-pollination, as players build friendships with guys they played with at previous stops, players use the same offseason trainers, etc., that rivalries may have lost some of that hate and fire they once had. Thoughts?

I can't speak on the rest of the NFL, but those rivalries still carry meaning in the NFC North. There might not be as much bad blood and animosity as there once was, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Incidents like the Charles Martin/Jim McMahon fiasco in 1986 went well beyond the realm of acceptability. In terms of pure competition and sport, however, the fire still burns brightly in these rivalries with Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago. I mean, there's a reason Aaron Rodgers shouted what he shouted two years ago at Soldier Field. It wasn't because he ate some bad pizza.

Chris from Greenfield, WI

As long as it is not at the expense of the Packers, I wouldn't mind seeing the Lions go all the way. Think about the ribbing we could give the Vikings for being the only NFC Central (old-school) or NFC north (current) that doesn't have a Lombardi trophy.

I'm not quite there yet. Call me cold-hearted, but if the Rams make the playoffs, I wouldn't mind seeing Matthew Stafford going into Ford Field and turning Detroit's dream season into a nightmare. Sorry, not sorry.

Bob from Fredericksburg, VA

Not so much a question as a "give me a break" comment. Maybe I'm just old-school but rooting for the Lions is WRONG! They are the same bunch who put a halt to our playoff hopes last year and came into Lambeau this year and embarrassed us. They hate us and we give it right back to them. They want to talk smack and jump into our stands, and we are supposed to "root" for these bums...not on my watch. No need for a trophy case in Ford Field anytime soon. I like it nice and empty.

Right. Unless somebody shows me documented evidence of Lions fans celebrating Super Bowl XLV in the streets of Detroit on Feb. 6, 2011, I won't shed any tears should the Lions find the nearest exit from the 2023-24 NFL postseason.

Ray from Phoenix, AZ

With Jayden Reed looking like he will play, can Bo Melton with his speed run Christian Watson's plays or is he strictly a slot receiver?

Melton may project as more of a slot/jet-sweep receiver, but Green Bay could still use him in other ways to test the Vikings vertically. Of course, Melton would need to be either elevated from the practice squad or signed to the active roster in order to play. That said, I would like to set the record straight on one thing. Melton was signed to the 53 when he played against Detroit in Week 12 and then released the following week. So, Green Bay has only elevated him twice to the gameday roster and has the option to do it again if the team so chooses.

Mike from Ames, IA

Really enlightening comments on defensive strategy/alignment/scheme in Friday's column! Is it safe to say that the percentage of plays where not everyone on defense is on the right page is a lot higher than most fans would expect? I started thinking about how often I can't get the right pre-snap buttons pressed in Madden, and I imagine it's a lot tougher at NFL speed than it is on Xbox. It's a good reminder of just how complicated and difficult the game (in reality, not Madden) can be.

Yes and no. It isn't easy to get everyone hitting on the same cylinder simultaneously but players knowing their assignments and communicating with one another is a key part of the gig. If defenses lose that, then it's going to get dunked on sooner than later.

Joe from Hampshire, IL

Wes, interesting that Royce Newman played TE in high school, so perhaps another wrinkle to the heavy goal-line package is Royce sneaking out for a pass?

Strangely enough, Newman said he mostly split out when he played tight end. With Newman's size, I thought he would've played more in-line. He confirmed the hands are still good, though.

Al from Green Bay, WI

Simple question, but I'm guessing it requires a very complicated answer: What did the Packers' defense do that contained Goff and Mahomes so well that they haven't done since? As we know, there is no longer margin for error.

I think it was a combination of limiting explosive plays, generating turnovers, getting off the field on third/fourth down and playing stout red-zone defense. Kansas City converted 7-of-11 on third down but was just 2-of-4 in the red zone. Against Detroit, the Packers' defense forced three fumbles while the Lions were just 1-of-5 on fourth downs. Green Bay has had spacing issues and allowed too many explosive plays since Kansas City.

Jim from Maple Grove, MN

Wes, I didn't realize that defer wasn't an option until 2008. In my myopic Packers world (see Mid-Week Chat and Margeaux's question from yesterday), I thought Mike McCarthy was a tactical genius who was using a long-forgotten rule to his advantage, and the rest of the NFL followed suit. What are your thoughts about the advantages of deferring versus receiving?

I was a huge proponent of deferring…until midseason. As I wrote last week, I think this year's Packers team should take the ball the rest of the season regardless of where the game is played. Not only does it allow the offense to get going but the defense also seems to play better, as well. Momentum is currency in the National Football League. Seize it.

Michael from Grovetown, GA

With the Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson mega deals seemingly gone horribly wrong, do you think that will make GMs gun shy for about a decade to make such deals?

You just have to be careful giving out those type of guarantees to quarterbacks who've never played for you. I totally understand why Denver did what it did. The Broncos missed several times on young QBs in the seven years between Peyton Manning and Wilson, but you don't win games based on what's happened in the past. You need the right guy for your particular team.

Ian from Kirkwhelpington, UK

There are roughly 1,000,000 people waiting for the NFL to release, on Sunday night, the Week 18 schedule so they can make travel plans. I say the TV companies have too much power, to the detriment of the fans. Do you agree?

The NFL has gotten too cute with the Week 18 schedule. If the league is serious about growing the game internationally, I think it owes it to fans to release the game times earlier than six days out for the finales. I understand flexing a premier game into primetime, but withholding the entire slate is a bit much.

James from Appleton, WI

When was the last time a Packers safety or corner had a sack? With opponents bunching three receivers together more often, does that force DBs to play off them and be too far away to succeed in a QB blitz?

It just depends on the call, but Jonathan Owens was the last defensive back to register a sack. It came against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9.

Matt from Waunakee, WI

In regard to the defense-defer debate, I think it was a Giants-Vikings playoff game many years ago. It was super windy. The Giants chose defense and kicked off in the same direction both halves. The wind was at their back. To start both halves, they got three-and-outs and scored. It was the difference in the game.

And the Giants won 17-10. The game within the game.

Steven from Balsam Lake, WI

What a story Joe Flacco is right now. If he so chooses to continue to play next season, I hope a team gives him the opportunity to compete for that team's starting QB.

There's still a lot of football left to be played but all I kept thinking during the final minutes of that Thursday Night Football game against the New York Jets is how this is quickly turning into a movie script. It's not just Flacco coming off the couch to quarterback the Browns. You forget the past three seasons didn't exactly go great for him. It looked like Flacco was just gonna be done and yet here we are. His run is definitely giving off "For Love of the Game" vibes.

Kyle from St. Charles, MO

Just heard Big Dog's TD catch last week (and lone of 2023) was just his 40th of his career. That surprised me. Looked at his career stats and a quarter of his TD production came in his lone 2010 Pro Bowl season. That also surprised me. Hoping he signs one more deal with someone next season so he can break the games played record. Always enjoyed him out there in green and gold.

Marcedes is another player with a story befitting a silver screen. I know how much it meant to him to play this year and set the record for most NFL seasons played by a tight end at 18. He turns 40 in May but still played in every game this year for the Bears. Whatever 'Cedes decides to do in 2024, pay homage to what he's given the game. Because he very well could be the last to do what he's doing at his position. I'm excited to see him next week at Lambeau.

TK from Grafton, WI

Is "almost losing my stolen lunch" akin to "being one digit away from winning the lottery"?

…that you found on the sidewalk.

Alan from Billings, MT

I love reading II and reading your answers to questions. I grew up in Wisconsin and watched the Packers games with my dad and recently watched the last two games with my son. I will always support them win, lose, or draw because they're my team (owner, too!). I trust they will do their best job and enjoy the journey for this season and beyond keep up your great work and Go Pack Go!

God bless you, Alan. I hope you and the family enjoy Sunday Night Football.

Agustin from Monterrey, Mexico

Not a question, just to wish you both and all II community to enjoy whatever this season has still for us Packers fans, and a 2024 offseason and season full of entertainment! And never forget: This is just a game – being healthy, having a job and being with the loved ones is the meaning of life. Happy New Year!

You know, it just dawned on me this is my final Insider Inbox of 2023. Thank you to everyone who's been part of it.

Dean from Leavenworth, IN

Good fortune helps the Packers keep the flame alive
Now found, the road is clouded by others
Next a Sunday night primetime elimination game
A border battle with a hated rival in a hostile environment
An opportunity to silence that damn horn and exact revenge
Your path is clear and only a win will guard the flame
Each must reach deep within and rise to the challenge, Green and Gold

Two weeks. Two NFC North rivals. One goal. Enjoy the game, everyone.

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